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“It Was Insane”: Joe Bonamassa Talks Playing With Eric Clapton Live on Stage

Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa perform on stage at the Royal Albert Hall on May 4, 2009 in London, England
Eric Clapton (left) and Joe Bonamassa perform on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall on May 4, 2009. (Image credit: Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Eric Clapton (or “God” as he was sometimes referred to in the ‘60s) took blues guitar to another level when he exploded onto the scene in 1966 with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton.

Dubbed the Beano album, this blues-rock masterpiece showcased a 21-year-old Clapton turning guitar tone on its head with a cranked Marshall tube amp and Gibson Les Paul Standard (opens in new tab).

In the pre-Hendrix era of the mid-’60s, Clapton’s revolutionary sound introduced the electric guitar world to what is now considered an industry standard in tone.

There is beauty in the simplicity of this rig. But his approach to playing guitar solos was perhaps a little less straightforward.

In this 1987 film clip, interviewer Melvyn Bragg of the U.K. arts series The South Bank Show (opens in new tab) asks Clapton to provide us with some insight.

“What goes through your mind when you're about to start a solo?” he asks.

Clapton’s answer implies things aren’t as calm as they might appear.

“You go through 100 different changes in your head about what approach you're gonna take,” he replies.

“And usually by the time you’ve gone through those changes it's time. It’s just like someone’s shoved you through a door and you’ve suddenly got to do an act.

“For me, I just start singing.”

Clapton’s explosive guitar sound rippled across the decades and has inspired some of the best blues-rock maestros of our time.

In a recent Musicians Hall of Fame (opens in new tab) interview, Joe Bonamassa told Joe Chambers how it felt to be standing on stage next to the man himself.

“It was insane,” he recalls. “I was shocked to find out that he knew who I was.”

Recounting the story of his Royal Albert Hall appearance in 2009 (opens in new tab), Bonamassa reveals how Clapton’s simple rig allowed his talent to shine through, much like it did in the mid-'60s.

“He showed up with a brand-new Custom Shop Strat – it was an Eric Clapton model. Daphne Blue. And he had a brand-new ‘57 reissue tweed [Fender] Twin (opens in new tab)… And a Monster cable (opens in new tab).

“It sounded like Eric Clapton. It sounded like the Blues Breakers.”

Browse the Joe Bonamassa catalog here (opens in new tab).
Browse the Eric Clapton catalog here (opens in new tab).

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab)Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.